Thursday, November 30, 2006

November 30 Practice

Friends, you won't believe this. I actually practiced for about 100 minutes tonight. All because I knew I'd decided, once again, to be accountable to this blog.

I'm tired, though, so this will be a short practice report.

Scales: D major and B minor at 88. The slight increase in speed has made for a bigger adjustment than you'd expect. Here's how each scale went the first time I played them:

Phase I: 2 octaves, parallel motion: Lovely.
Phase II: 2 octaves, (outward) contrary motion: Not bad a-tall. Until maybe the last five notes of the octave.
Phase III: 2 octaves, (inward) contrary motion: The first five notes (the same five that tripped me up in Phase II) are a problem.
Phase IV: 2 octaves, parallel motion: Lovely. Except for those same five notes.

Oh, and those five notes? They're a LH issue. Though they're probably a RH issue, too, since I can play the LH alone perfectly. If I add the RH and try to focus on the LH and let the RH just play, then the RH forgets what it's supposed to do.

Maddening. So I used the increasing "trill" exercises by Mark Westcott with the D-major. It helped. I spent extra time on the five notes at the bottom. I think part of the problem might be that I get nervous because my hands are so far apart at that point, and I can't really "get behind" either of them, so I choke a little bit.

I needed to do the same drilling with B minor, but I'd already spent a half-hour on scales, and had a lot left to do!

Inversions: Good. I listened.

Arps: Good. G major and E minor.

Suzuki (Beethoven Sonatina in G): I played through it. We didn't go over it at piano yesterday, so I'll continue practicing what I've learned, and learning the rest of the piece by ear.

Bach Prelude: I drilled the poop out of the last few measures. Practiced with the new fingering, and it was a challenge. My hands have gotten so used to the previous fingering; they didn't want to change fingering again. (My hands probably get really annoyed with my brain for constantly changing fingerings on them.) But I finally got it the new way and practiced in rhythms of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the piece is in 6/8 time). Then I played through the entire piece at a super-slow pace, with the metronome, to train myself not to get faster and faster and faster as I play through the piece. It's one of those motoric, whirring preludes Bach is known for, and it's easy to get caught up in it and play too fast.

Bach Fugue: I worked on the last three measures. The antepenultimate measure was the one we focused on in my lesson yesterday. I went over it a few times, then moved on to the penultimate measure. It's a mean and nasty complex little measure. I slogged through it the way I was slogging through individual beats of individual measures when I first started learning this thing HT. I need to do some serious rhythm practice with those measures. No time tonight, though. Tonight I just focused on learning to feel at home with the HT notes.

Liszt: It was getting late, and I was getting tired, so I played through the Liszt a few times, thinking not so much about pedaling or fingering, but about architecture. Thinking about how the sections relate to each other--how they're part of the whole, and how they contribute to the whole. The word that keeps coming to mind is "texture," for some reason. I listened for texture, and how the texture of each section fit into the overall piece. I think the creative visualization helped, and I'm going to continue to do it.

My playing of the Liszt was good, too. There were times when I felt like I was pouring my whole body into the music. That has to be a good sign.

It was a good practice. Now, if I could just have about five more of those before next Wednesday. I'll do my best!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Piano Lesson Today

Today's 1.5-hour lesson included a lot of talking, but in a good way. I love my piano teacher. It was a great lesson, even though it was mostly talking.

Today's theme seemed to be "Trust Yourself." See, I have very little faith in my ability to play well. Have you ever thought you looked good in a certain outfit, then, when you saw pictures of yourself in it, thought, "Oh, horrors! Why did I ever think that turquoise jumpsuit looked good on me? My butt looks like Mars!"

OK, maybe you've never had that experience. But try to imagine. I've always been very critical of myself, not just in piano. When I don't play well, I know it. When I do play something well ... I know it. I can feel it. Or I think I can. And the other week in the group piano class, I thought I played the Prelude and the Liszt well. Not perfectly, of course, but beautifully.

Then ... later ... I wondered ... "What if I just thought I sounded good? What if I really sounded like crap? What if I got too involved in the pieces and my playing was nothing but a bunch of muddy, overly rubaticized (is that a word?) cacophony of notes?

Oh, my. What if everyone could tell it was bad except for me?

This actually happened once. Sort of. I played a piece for a group class back when I was about thirteen years old. I thought I played fine. I felt good about how I played. Then, at my next private lesson, Mrs. W. said something to the effect of, "I couldn't believe how badly you played. I was embarrassed for you." Then she proceeded to get on my case (which I'm sure I deserved) for not practicing.

Well, the cut was deep. The scar is still there. To this day, whenever I think I've played well, I later think, "I wonder if I actually played so badly that people were embarrassed for me."

It's crazy, and it's silly, and it makes no sense. But I had to ask Deborah today, "Did I really sound good at the group lesson? I thought I sounded good, but I don't know. So if I sounded awful, please tell me."

So she looked at me kind of funny and said I'd played beautifully--not perfectly, but beautifully. I still didn't totally believe her, so I told her about the Mrs. W. tongue-lashing of 1983. Poor Deborah must think I'm crazy. We work though "childhood piano issues" a couple of times a year. She doesn't exactly play therapist at those times, though she does have some good advice--much of it gleaned from her own experience.

So we talked through the "Mrs. W. issue" today, and she said she's going to start giving me more responsibility for interpreting and judging my playing. (Ack! No! I like having an all-wise, all-knowing teacher!)

On to the lesson report (as if this post isn't already long enough!) ...

Scales: Good, good, good. I played Ab-major and F minor at 88. I'd been doing 84 forever, so 88 was new. I did well on the Ab, but struggled a little with the F minor (which, along with F# minor, is probably the scale that gives me the most trouble these days). She told me to trust myself (doesn't Yoda say something like that?), to accept that I know this scale and that I can play it. So I did, and even though I felt a little uncertain while playing the F minor again, I did play it evenly, and without a single missed note. So that was good.

Inversions: I've gotten a little sloppy about making sure all notes hit evenly. I'm to start listening to the inversions more attentively when I play them, hearing every note of each chord, and how the sounds differ from one inversion to the next.

Arps: Pretty good. She left the usual comments: "Soft thumbs." "Soft hands." I tend to tense up if I'm at all uncertain about hitting the right notes (which is often the case in the black-key arps--though I've developed an comfy-old-armchair feeling for the white-key arps). She said I just need to trust that my hands will fly to the right notes. I tried it. I played lots of wrong notes, and I usually don't play any wrong notes. But you know what? The world didn't come to an end. So I'm to practice the attitude of trusting my hands, and they'll know where to go.

Fugue: I wanted her to watch me practice the last couple of measures because I'm uncertain about the fingering (there's a weird jump in the left hand in the second beat of the penultimate measure, and I was wondering if I might somehow avoid the weird jump). So I went into a 10-minute mini-practice session while she watched and listened.

About six minutes into it, I asked, "Am I playing this too legato?"

She said. "What do you think?" (argh!)

I said, "I think I am. The sixteenth notes need to be just a little shorter ... like this." (And I played it.) And, "When I play them less legato, they sound more like Bach should be played (duh!) and that unavoidable jump in the LH doesn't sound out-of-place anymore."

She said, "See? You didn't need me to tell you that. You already knew."

Trust your feelings, Luke.

Prelude: Before we even started work on the prelude, I said, "OK, I need help on the last two measures of this one too. My left hand doesn't feel powerful when I play this, and it needs to." Turns out it was a matter of fingering (of course!). We changed the fingering around, and I practiced it a few times with the new fingering, and voila! my LH felt more comfortable.

Liszt: I'm still confused about pedaling. Apparently, I was pedaling it like a pro, except for a few measures. So she said I need to make sure my pedaling is good throughout, and that one measure doesn't jarringly morph into the next. Of course, Little Miss NAPS* becomes obsessive and overly sensitive about pedaling and starts pedaling very poorly (this was a couple of weeks ago). Tonight, Deborah said to play through the Liszt, and pedal it the way I felt I should, and that she'd stop me when the pedaling wasn't working.

There were just a few places where it wasn't working. And we fixed those.

My other "issue" (it's not really an issue, but ...) with the Liszt is the idea of "architecture." Right now, each section for me is a lovely little room, and I get lost in wonderment at the details of each room. I don't feel a sense of all of the rooms being connected into a single whole-is-greater-than-its-parts mansion. And that comes through in my playing. It sounds beautiful, but it sounds ... like a story that has too much detail and goes on too long. So I think I might actually write about the Liszt as if it were a house, picturing it as a single structure that contains lots of cool rooms. For some reason, I think this "creative-visualization" approach is going to help me.

But, ah ... She said the last page in particular sounded great!! Which made me happy. I actually spent a good bit of time practicing the chromatic scale toward the end--making it smooth, fluttering the pedal, slightly speeding up as I go, etc., and making the F# of that final third "ding" like a little bell.

It was a good lesson, even though it involved more talk than playing this time. And I do need to learn to trust myself more. It's not like I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to music.

Or ... am I? ;-)

*Neurotic Adult Piano Student

Oops, Accountability

I forgot to write about accountability in that last post. I'm supposed to be practicing right now, so I'll make this short.

I want to try to post here every day. If I fail to make time for piano, I'll write about it here. So, I'm going to be accountable to this blog, and to you, dear readers (all three of you!). I hate the idea of writing down something like, "I chose to watch "Law and Order" reruns rather than practice today." But if that's what happens, I'm going to write it down.

Now I'm going to go practice. Bach is a-calling!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Progress and Accountability

I've been practicing in fits and starts lately. I am so mad at myself. I don't know why I do this. I love piano and I love practicing, but for some stupid reason, I fail to make it a priority, day after day after day. Why?

I think part of it has to do with where I am in each piece. I'm slogging through every last one of them. I have all the notes, and learning them was no small task. But now it's time to work on the hard stuff: tone, dynamics, articulation, articulation, articulation, and gestures, gestures, gestures. Those last ones are the big challenges for me. Oh, and pedaling in the Liszt.

So, I've come a long way from the starting point, and I've thought I've seen glimpses of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. (I know. It's all light. It's the journey not the destination. But geez.) At this point, I just feel like I'm slogging. Trying to make my way through a swamp of notes and rests and pedaling and dynamics. Progress comes, but it's slow to come.

Here's what's really frustrating: progress would come a lot faster if I were to make piano more of a priority. Just tonight I sat down for 20 minutes and perfected two measures of the fugue by playing rhythms in 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s. And it only took 20 minutes. Then I spent 20 more minutes on two more measures. Forty minutes total, and I can play those four measures, holding all the right notes, staccato-ing all the right notes, doing everything the way I'm supposed to.

(Have you noticed ... even when you play Bach in weird rhythms with weird timings ... that the music still sounds miraculous?)

I think I need to do some soul-searching here. Or something like that. Most of my time lately has gone to writing, running, freelance jobs, "homemaking," and Hubster. To tell the truth, Hubster has been my biggest priority, and "homemaking" is part of that.

OK, I feel a sudden need to defend myself.

I put "homemaking" in quotes because I'm not much of a homemaker. "Homemaking," though, refers to home-care, everything from washing clothes to changing sheets to scrubbing toilets to vacuuming to cleaning out the litter box to raking leaves to grocery-shopping to making dinner to doing the dishes. Of course the Hubster helps, but he also has a very demanding job, and I don't. So this is the way things are for now, and it's something we've both agreed on, and it's something we're both happy with. So there.

But I will rue the day when scrubbin' becomes more important than Scriabin. Or, to apply it more to my repertoire, when baking becomes more important than Bach-ing.

I'm trying a new approach to things. Sometimes I can just practice "when I feel like it" and manage to get in an hour or two of practice time a day ... because I really feel like practicing that much. Other times, like now, when I'm slogging through the middle of a piece, practicing "when I feel like it" means not practicing all that much. This has got to change. It's time to impose a new schedule on my life.

I'm going to try this one:

5:45-6:45 a.m. -- Run
6:45-7:45 a.m. -- Clean some house, then shower
8:00-9:45 a.m. -- Practice piano
10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. -- Work on the novel (this is when I do my best writing)
1:00-4:00 p.m. -- Freelance work
4:00-6:00 p.m. -- Errands, including groceries
6:00-8:00 p.m. -- Make dinner, do dishes, clean kitchen
8:00-9:30 p.m. -- Hubster time!
9:30-10:15 p.m. -- Read, go to sleep

We'll see how this works. I know I don't have any eating time in there. It's there. I just didn't inlcude it. But this gives me an hour and forty-five minutes for practice. Wish me luck!